Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Eternal Champion: Sing a Last Song of Valdese

Can you have metal Friday on a Tuesday night? You can if its Thanksgiving week.

Today I'm highlighting "Sing a Last Song of Valdese" by Eternal Champion, arguably the most sword-and-sorcery heavy metal band of all time (Manowar might have something to say about that...maybe). I mean, lead singer Jason Tarpey writes for DMR Books. 'Nuff said.

I'm about halfway through the Karl Edward Wagner special edition of Phantasmagoria (highly recommended; it's FUN), and came across this quote by Tarpey about the inspiration for this song:

"I love Karl Edward Wagner; I almost made 'Sing a Last Song of Valdese' about another book of his called Dark Crusade, but then it occurred to me that I've already written a song dedicated to his novel Bloodstone, so this time around I wanted to focus on his short stories. There's actually elements of the lyrics in 'Sing a Last Song of Valdese' that are pulled from other stories in his collection called Night Winds, most notably the story 'Raven's Eyrie.' Kane is just an awesome character and I'm always tempted to write more songs in his honour."

Let's hope Tarpey does just that. Have you seen the album cover for their 2020 album Ravening Iron, with artwork by the great Ken Kelly? This image is mainlined S&S; to paraphrase Nigel Tufnel it could be "None more (sword-and-sorcery)." Love it.

You pulled the trigger on my Love Gun, indeed. Thanks Ken Kelly.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Sword-and-sorcery had a BAD reputation in the late 70s/early 80s; here's more evidence

In Flame and Crimson I advanced the claim that one of the principal reasons behind the demise of sword-and-sorcery was its poor reputation. I was mainly referring to critics and academics and cited many which were regularly lampooning the subgenre, but publishing houses were beginning to consider it anathema as well.

I feel pretty confident in that claim, and believe I backed it up pretty well in the book, but here's some more evidence courtesy of James Maliszewski of the Grognardia blog. This post includes some screenshots of an interview conducted with the late, great Greg Stafford in the pages of White Dwarf #17, published in early 1980. Here Stafford relays a story about submitting a sword-and-sorcery story to the editor of a semi-pro 'zine, and meeting with a harsh rejection slip stating that "all S&S is the same hackwork."

Worse, Stafford mostly agreed with the assessment.

The cool bit is that he used that rejection as fuel, and a springboard to create a highly innovative role-playing game, Runequest, which I played the hell out of back in the 80s. 

If it took a kick in the balls to S&S to produce Runequest, that rejection slip was probably worth it. 

But, like a kick in the balls it doesn't hurt any less.

It's an interesting post, and leads to unanswered questions about sword-and-sorcery and whether it can continue as a viable art form. How do we maintain its traditions and archetypes and themes, while not falling into the same repetition and pastiche trap that led to its demise in the mid-1980s?

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Signs of a (modest) S&S revival

Look around, you can see the drips. Slow, and few, but persistent.

That's pretty sword-and-sorcery.
A new issue of Phantasmagoria dedicated entirely to Karl Edward Wagner.


Podcasts and videos popping up, led by Rogues in the House, and now Skull TV.


The appearance of new writers with promise (Schuyler Hernstrom), slowly swelling the ranks of the few and the proud (Scott Oden, Howard Andrew Jones, James Enge) who have been working all along.


Tales from the Magician’s Skull exceeding its modest kickstarter funding goal of $10,000 more than fourfold.


New publishing venues appearing on the scene. The likes of Whetstone. New volumes of Swords and Sorceries, and Savage Realms. An outfit called Flinch Books announcing a forthcoming anthology, Blood on the Blade.


DMR Books cranking up the volume with new titles and classic reprints.


More fans connecting, led by the Discord Whetstone server.


More critical awareness and historical perspective of the subgenre’s roots, of which I like to think I played a part. As have the likes of Deuce Richardson, and others.


The latest is the new film The Spine of Night. You can find a spoiler-free, good review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeiAswHi790. The reviewer describes it as a cross of Fire and Ice and Heavy Metal, violent and bloody as hell, with rotoscoped animation. I’m all in.


So, what can we deduce from this? Maybe nothing. A coincidental confluence, a mild nostalgia-fueled blip. 


But maybe, a portent, something larger, brewing at a low simmer. 


We’ll see.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Who am I?

Not Jean Valjean. But, maybe not quite who you’d expect, either. 

On this blog I have assumed a certain persona, centered around my various interests, which you can deduce through my posts. A guy who loves sword-and-sorcery, heavy metal, horror. All true, and I will remain a fan of these things until the day I die. A published author, recently, of Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery, a book I’m glad I wrote, and that I believe my favorite subgenre needed.


But then I realize, from that esoteric online profile you may deduce I’m some long-haired tattooed buff dude, or maybe a basement dwelling nerd trapped in the 80s. For the record, I claim just a little bit from each of those descriptions. But my posts here would likely lead you to an inaccurate perception of the man behind the keyboard.


The truth is a lot more prosaic. The truth is, I’m just an average guy.


Sword-and-sorcery is maybe 2% of my story. I live a full life as a knowledge worker, a dad, a homeowner, and all the other trappings and commitments typical of a middle-age (48 year old) dude living in 21st century suburbia.


So, feel free to stop there, but if you want more, here’s a little about me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

I backed Tales from the Magician's Skull; you should too

Tales from the Magician's Skull has launched a second kickstarter, More Tales from the Magician's Skull, to fund additional issues beyond no. 6. You can find the kickstarter here.

I backed it today, going with an option that includes five print and digital issues.

If you enjoy sword-and-sorcery and want to see it survive and thrive, you have to support these types of publishing ventures. I'm not trying to shame anyone who doesn't have the cash, but if you do, why not give it a go? You're helping to foster new writers, new stories, and a pretty cool outfit. I love what Goodman Games has done with the magazine and the Skeletor-esque, tongue-in-cheek Skull mascot who immolates interns like a bug zapper. Lots to love here.